China urged to use Olympics to improve human rights record

Chris Cockel, The China Post, Washington D.C.

Mainland China’s government should use the 2008 Olympic Games, due to be held in the capital Beijing, as an opportunity to improve its record on human rights, labor rights and press freedom, according to a U.S.-based human rights group.

With the 2004 Olympics into its second and final week in Athens, Greece, and the Olympic flag to be handed over to Beijing at the closing ceremony on Aug. 29, the mainland authorities need to consider the kind of welcome they want to extend to the world, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. “Responsibilities come with the international prestige China receives by hosting the 2008 Olympic Games,” said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a press release. “An embarrassing record of continuing human rights abuses is no way to welcome the world to Beijing,” he continued. Human Rights Watch launched its “China Olympics Watch” Web site on Monday in order to closely monitor issues of censorship, unlawful evictions, and labor rights abuses that occur in the run-up to the 2008 Games. The group is also urging the Beijing government to end media and Internet censorship, to allow mainland workers to organize independent trade unions and ensure rights protection for people evicted from their homes to make way for Olympic venues and associated development. With tens of thousands of international and domestic journalists due to converge on Beijing to cover the Games, the mainland government should also ensure that freedom of expression is extended not only to the international media, but to domestic news organizations as well, says Human Rights Watch. In advance of the 2008 Games, Human Rights Watch will also be collecting Internet postings from Chinese web users and translating them into English so that the international community can see the type of information sought by mainland residents that the government bans.

Human Rights Watch was particularly alarmed by an incident during clashes between mainland soccer hooligans and police on Aug. 7 following China’s defeat by Japan in the Asian Cup. At the height of the disturbance, several plainclothes police officers apparently kicked an Associated Press Please see HUMAN on page

photographer and beat him with a baton, destroying his camera. The police are also reported to have shoved an Agence France-Presse photographer. Both photographers were reportedly observing the incident from way behind the riot line and had identified themselves as members of the international media.

Such incidents do not bode well for press freedom during the 2008 Olympics, according to Human Rights Watch. “Allowing reporters to do their work without interference will be central to the success of Beijing’s games,” said Adams. “The IOC (International Olympic Committee) should also be prepared to respect its own charter and ensure full news coverage,” he said. Human Rights Watch is also urging Olympic sponsors to press the mainland government to respect labor rights and freedom of association. “The world will be watching to see whether China is able to open up and allow its citizens basic freedoms,” said Adams. “Otherwise, the games could well showcase repression inside China instead of progress,” he said.

Though Human Rights Watch makes no reference to Taiwan in its list of concerns in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic Games, other human right groups, such as the Czech Republic-based Olympic Watch and the Germany-based International Society for Human Rights, have expressed their concern over the island’s treatment. Both groups expressed their outrage to the IOC at an “attack on the freedom of speech” at the 2004 Olympic Games, when advertising promoting Taiwan was taken down under pressure from mainland China.

“Activists around the world need to use the four years of this Olympiad to help the Chinese people in their strife for their civil and political rights and democracy,” states a posting on the Olympic Watch Web site.